Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Beach Logs and Tide Pools

The natural beauty of our National Parks is unparalleled. We've begun our journey through four of these parks, beginning with Olympic in the northwest corner of Washington. Our fortunes with clear skies and moderate temperatures continue. As we rode the ferry back to Seattle from the Olympic Peninsula we stood looking at three magnificent mountains -- Mt. Rainier to the south, massive and alone; Mt. Baker to the northeast equally spectacular set in the North Cascade Range; and looking back at the peaks of Mt. Olympus.

Words, and even images, can barely describe the amazing richness and diversity of the Olympic Peninsula. With only two days to spend we divided our time between the alpine tundra, coastal beaches, and interior rainforest. Each landscape splendid in its beauty.

Olympic National Park includes a narrow coastal strip. Here towering ancient western red cedar, sitka spruce, and western hemlock form a dense forest down to the shore. "Beach logs" line the upper edge of the shore, so large and dense, they form a protective barrier to the forest.

These giant trees were uprooted from their perches along creeks or the headlands along the coast by heavy rain and glacial meltwater. Massive on land, these trees wash into the sea, only to be thrown back up on shore like matchsticks by the powerful surf.

Over time these great fallen trees are bleached and worn -- "the bones of the rainforest picked cleaned by the sea."

The enormous power of the ocean is visible by looking offshore at "sea stacks," remnants of a time when the shoreline was 30 miles farther west.

Sandstone outcrops along the upper beach reveal past actions of piddock clams, forming round depressions in the soft sandstone by wiggling their bodies.

At the edge of the sea -- the intertidal zone -- thousands of creatures crowd together, anchored to rocks or each other, feeding as the tides ebb and flow.

Barnacles, limpets, whelks, and mussels hold tight to the rocks.

Mussels dominate the mid-tide zone, but lower down purple and orange sea stars move in feeding on the mussels and barnacles. They tug at the mussel's shell, while the mussel tries to hold its shell closed tight. Eventually the "starfish" succeeds, as do all predators.

Giant green sea anemones and small, pink-tentacled anemones live in the lower intertidal zone among the sea stars. They wait patiently as ocean waters flow over their flower-like stinging tentacles, capturing organic matter.

As the tide rushed in, filling the tide pools with water, we left behind these magnificent pockets of sea life. Our next destination, the Hoh Rainforest to walk among majestic sitka spruce, some more than 250 feet tall and over 500 years old.

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